Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen. Tonight’s sermon is a continuation of our theme, The Word and the Wonder. With “God’s Word for Simeon and Anna,” we skip right over Christmas to something that happened 40 days after Jesus was born: his presentation in the Temple, also known as the Purification of Mary. The Law of Moses required that every firstborn son be dedicated to the Lord and that 40 days after his birth, the mother offer a sacrifice to make her ceremonially clean again (Exodus 13; Leviticus 12). So Mary and Joseph journeyed from Bethlehem to Jerusalem in order to obey the Law.
While they were there, an old man named Simeon suddenly came up to them, took Jesus into his arms, and began to prophesy. The words he spoke are familiar to us. They are the same as the Nunc Dimittis that we sing after Holy Communion in some of our Divine Services. After all, most often when we chant the liturgy, we are singing Scripture. This is no less true of the Nunc Dimittis, or Simeon’s Song.
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your Word;
for my own eyes have seen your salvation
that you prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32, ESV).
An old man, Simeon waited his entire life for God to fulfill his promise that, before he died, Simeon would see the Messiah. God kept his promise, and Simeon was overfilled with joy. A prophetess named Anna, a widow who was 84-years-old, also praised God and gave thanks for the coming of the Christ child (v. 38).
I have witnessed the wonder on the face of an old man or old woman when I sometimes bring Benjamin or Michael with me on a nursing home visit. The residents rarely see children, and the appearance of a little person full of life and energy instantly charges them with happiness. Imagine how much more joy Simeon and Anna must have had when they saw, not just any child, but their Lord and Savior come into his Temple! There are no words to express such ecstasy… Correction: actually there are words—the Nunc Dimittis!
Simeon’s Song reveals the great joy that comes when we discover that God is true to his Word and always keeps his promises. There is another important dimension to this song as well: the importance of the Church’s mission to reach the lost with the saving message of Jesus Christ. Simeon calls Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles,” the proof that God loves not just the Jews, but the whole world. Jesus is the “glory” of his people, Israel, the fulfillment of all God’s promises to his chosen people. Yet even Israel was called to be “a light for the nations” (Isa. 42:6; 49:6). This is no less true of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.
The same is true also for us. Jesus says, “In this way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your beautiful works and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:16, CSM). At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” by baptizing and teaching God’s Word (Matt. 28:19-20). The light of Christ burns in our hearts, and we are called to shine God’s light so that other people may see and believe.
Yet we need to remember that not everyone has joy over the light of the Christ child. Some people love darkness more than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). They are unwilling to repent and receive God’s grace. Even we at times would prefer to hide our sins than confess them. We would rather hide our lamp under a basket than let its light shine for everyone to see (cp. Matt. 5:14-15).
It is important for us to remember that the Nunc Dimittis is not the only thing Simeon spoke under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For while Joseph and Mary marveled at the wonderful words of the Nunc Dimittis, Simeon blessed them and prophesied: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
“A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” These words cut to the core of what Advent and Christmas are all about. Not a cute, cuddly baby, but a baby born to die because the world is evil and full of sin. We are evil and full of sin. The call for repentance cuts to the heart, and so does the exclusive claim of Jesus to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). No one comes to the Father except through him. No one is saved except through him. That’s not a message people want to hear in our tolerant, pluralistic society, where what’s right for you is right for you, and what’s right for me is right for me.
Just think of how many people are offended when you say, “Merry Christmas!” They’d rather we’d say, “Happy holidays!” so that we can leave Christ out of Christmas. They don’t want Jesus to interrupt their day and intrude into their secular celebrations. The reality is that Jesus is offensive to those who do not believe. He does not set out to offend, but offend he will, just the same. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” Jesus says. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). In the words that follow, Jesus makes clear that he does not warrant violence. Christians are not supposed to be crusaders converting people by the edge of the sword. The only sword we wield is the Word of God, which is the sword of Jesus’ mouth (Rev. 1:16; 2:16; 19:15).
But the sword of God’s Word brings division in families and communities. If you become a Christian, not just in name only, but actively living and speaking your faith, you will find that people will not like you. Former friends and family members will make fun of you or maybe even reject you. “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10:22). You will be cut off from certain circles of society and rungs of the corporate ladder. “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.”
You cannot follow Christ without sharing in his suffering. Christ suffered and died for you. That’s why he was born. That’s why he came to save you from your sins. And if you believe in his name, you will suffer. You won’t even have to seek out suffering, like some misguided martyr. It will find you.
Perhaps this year, when we decorate our trees, we should put up a new Christmas ornament, one shaped like a sword as a reminder that a sword will pierce our hearts. Jesus was pierced by nails and spear. And because of that, we “depart in peace, according to [his] word” (Luke 2:29). Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to T the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.